Home » Towns » South Australia » Eyre Peninsula » Whyalla, SA
Print

Whyalla, SA

Important steel city and port on the Spencer Gulf.

Whyalla is a steel city. With a population of more than 20,000 (although it rises and falls according to the economic viability of the city), Whyalla is South Australia's fourth largest centre after Adelaide, Mount Gambier and Gawler. Larger than Ceduna or Port Lincoln it is one of the three major centres on the Eyre Peninsula. The city's primary appeal lies in the fishing available in the Spencer Gulf; the enduring interest in the steel industry which is now over 100 years old; and the interesting museums and lookouts in the local area.

Location

Whyalla is located on the eastern coast of the Eyre Peninsula 75 km south of Port Augusta and 382 km north of Adelaide.

^ TOP

Origin of Name

The location was initially named Hummock Hill in 1802 by Matthew Flinders. It was known until the 1920s as 'Hummocky'. The town's name was officially changed to Whyalla, an Banggarla Aboriginal word possibly meaning "deep water place".

^ TOP

Things to See and Do

HMAS Whyalla
The 650 tonne corvette mine sweeper HMAS Whyalla was the first ship completed at the Whyalla shipyard in 1941. It has become one of the city's most visible tourist attractions and, amusingly, is now located 2 km from the sea. There are guided tours of the vessel daily at 11.30 am and 1.30 pm. For more information tel: (08) 8645 7900, 1800 088 589 or check http://www.whyalla.sa.gov.au/page.aspx?u=801.

Whyalla Maritime Museum
Located on the Lincoln Highway as you enter Whyalla, the Whyalla Maritime Museum, which was opened in 1988, has a range of interesting exhibits including a permanent exhibition explaining the story of the four corvettes built in Whyalla during World War II; the years when BHP Ltd's shipbuilding was at the heart of the local economy; and the early maritime heritage of the upper Spencer Gulf which includes an 1814 edition of Matthew Flinders’ charts and journals. The natural history section of the gallery features the Spencer Gulf’s diverse marine environment including the large population of sharks. The Aboriginal section explores the history of the local tribal presence in the area over a period of at least 6,000 years and the local community's unique rituals - the "Singing of the Sharks" - connected with the sea. A significant addition is the largest HO model railway in Australia featuring the railways, steelworks, mines, towns and landscape between Whyalla, Iron Knob, Port Augusta, Snowtown and Adelaide. The total length of the track is over 400 metres.
The museum complex is surrounded by an Australian native plants garden with another museum vessel - the fishing boat Valkyrie, outdoor objects, and free barbecue facilities. The museum is open from 10.00 am - 4.00 pm seven days a week with tours of the ship being held at 11.30 am and 1.30 pm. For more information tel: (08) 8645 7900 or check http://www.whyalla.sa.gov.au/page.aspx?u=801.

Visiting the OneSteel Steelworks
Whyalla is now the only steelworks in Australia where regular public tours are held. The tours, which leave the Tourist Centre at 9.30 am on Mondays, Wednesdays and Friday, last for about two hours and cover the entire steel making process from the coke ovens and blast furnace to the rolling mill. The steelworks now specialise in long products - railway lines (it is now the only plant in Australia to produce railway lines), rolled steel joists, steel railway sleepers - and produce over 90 different grades of steel. The major period of expansion for the steelworks occurred in the 1960s when two blast furnaces were opened, the coke ovens were commissioned (1968) and an iron ore pelletising plant was constructed. The tours can be booked through the Visitor Centre, tel: (08) 8645 7900 or 1800 088 589.

Walks Around Whyalla
City Walk Trail
Starting at the corner of Jamieson and Horwood Streets, indicated by red route markers, and 1.9 km in length, the City Walk Trail includes Hummock Hill, follows the OneSteel fence on the northern side of Hummock Hill and has interpretative signs which explain the history of the settlement, industrial history, natural and maritime heritage, and the city’s unique architecture.

Education and Cultural Walk Trail
Starting at the Whyalla Leisure Centre, indicated by blue route markers, 2.1 km in length, this trail includes the main education and cultural precinct of the city including the campus of the University of SA, TAFE SA, Leisure Centre, Regional Development Australia and Middleback Art Centre. There are interpretative signs about the significance of the buildings and the area. Check https://www.whyalla.com/trails-and-walks for more information.

Mount Laura Homestead Museum
Located in Ekblom Street, the National Trust Mount Laura Homestead Museum is an historic rural homestead in the heart of suburbia and close to the large Westland Shopping Centre. The museum includes the Gay Street Cottage which was built by BHP in 1914; the elegant, nine room Mount Laura Homestead (1922) which was originally part of the Mount Laura property; Whyalla's original wood and corrugated iron lockup (1914) which is the only known example of a portable gaol in South Australia; an engine which was used to haul iron ore from Iron Knob to Whyalla; a telecommunications section which features pieces from the original Overland Telegraph; and a collection of horse drawn vehicles. There is also a Women's Memorial Sculpture. It is open weekdays from 10.00 am - 2.00 pm and Sundays from 2.00 pm - 4.00 pm. For more information tel: (08) 8645 4213 or 0417 990 661. Check out https://www.nationaltrust.org.au/places/mount-laura-station.

The Loaded Dog
This sculpture, celebrating Australia's most famous and most loved literary dog, was created by sculptor Andy Scott. It was designed and constructed in Glasgow using thousands of pieces of 10 mm and 12 mm steel rod which have been welded together. It can be seen at 97 McDouall Stuart Avenue in the garden of the Veterinary Clinic. For more information check out http://www.whyallavet.com.au/Loaded%20Dog/loadeddogtitle.html.

Hummock Hill
Hummock Hill was named by Matthew Flinders in 1802. Today the top of the hill affords 360° views across the city and steelworks as well as across Spencer Gulf and down the coast. It was used as an observation post during World War II and the gun emplacements are still standing. There is interpretative historic signage. On the southern slope of Hummock Hill, near the beach, are the Ada Ryan Gardens. This pleasant green park, complete with a duck pond and some native fauna, is a cool retreat from the hot dryness of the town. It was the first park established in Whyalla and is still the city's most popular.

Freycinet & Flinders Lookout
Located on Farrell Street overlooking Spencer Gulf, the Freycinet & Flinders Lookout commemorates the remarkable fact that these two explorers sailed around Spencer Gulf in 1802 (Flinders) and 1803 (Freycinet). Both named the main features in the gulf and there is a fascinating map which records, for example, that Flinders named the waters Spencer Gulf and Freycinet called it Golfe Bonaparte. Other places twice named included Two Hummock Point which was Cap Racine; Point Lowly was Cap Moliere; Middle Mount was Piton Du Casuarina: and False Bay was Baie Crebillon. 
The signage on Louis-Claude de Saulces de Freycinet records that Nicolas Baudin "sent Freycinet to complete surveys of Gulf St Vincent and Spencer Gulf. Sailing from east to west, Freycinet entered Spencer Gulf on 19 January 1803. On Monday 24 January 1803 Freycinet, although facing strong opposite winds, completed a survey of the west coast north of Whyalla and spent the night off False Bay. On Tuesday 25 January, he continued sailing south, describing Mount Young as an "elevated knoll that appears like a solitary island, therefore becoming an interesting point of recognition for navigators". In the Whyalla area, Freycinet observed and named Piton Du Casuarina, Cap Chaulieu (Mount Young), Baie Crebillon, Cap Moliere, Baie Corneille (Fitzgerald Bay) and Cap Lafontaine (Becky Point)."
A sign records Matthew Flinders' involvement in the exploration of the gulf: "In July 1801, Matthew Flinders left England with orders to Investigate and chart the unknown southern coast of Australia. Sailing from west to east, he entered Spencer Gulf in February 1802. On Monday afternoon the 8 March 1802, Flinders came to anchor south of today's Whyalla, a position from where he could observe Middleback Range and Mount Young. On Tuesday morning the 9 March 1802, Flinders continued sailing in a northeast course. At 12 noon, eight kilometres offshore from Hummock Hill the bearings were taken and observations registered. At this stage, Flinders wrote: "Our prospect of a channel or strait, cutting off some considerable portion of Terra Australis, was lost, for it now appeared that the ship was entered into a gulph; but the width of the opening round Point Lowly left us a consolatory hope that it would terminate in a river of some importance." Without stopping, Flinders sailed north and anchored the ship at the head of the gulf at sunset. In the Whyalla area, Flinders observed and named Middleback Mount, Middle Mount, Mount Young and Point Lowly."

Whyalla Wetlands
Located at the corner of the Lincoln Highway and Playford Avenue these wetlands, which were once part of the town's original airport have a series of pleasant walking paths around lakes where there are suitable places for picnics and barbecues. The trails can be as short as 900 metres and as long as 2.5 km.

Whyalla Foreshore and Marina
Located adjacent to the boat ramp, the foreshore and marina is an ideal place for a pleasant evening or early morning walk. There is safe swimming, an excellent boardwalk and the marina is an ideal place for fishing for tommy ruff, whiting and garfish.

Rotary Peace and Harmony Globe and Sundial
Located on the Whyalla Foreshore this 2.5 metre stainless steel globe was unveiled on World Harmony Day - 22 March, 2014. It celebrates the multicultural nature of Whyalla where people from all over the world came to work in the local steelworks.

^ TOP

Other Attractions in the Area

Whyalla Conservation Park
Located on the Lincoln Highway 10 km north of the Whyalla Visitor Centre, the Whyalla Conservation Park has a pleasant walking trail to the top of Wild Dog Hill. There are interpretative markers along the trail.

Freycinet Trail
This trail runs 12 km along the shoreline to Point Lowly. It is broken into two sections:
Fitzgerald Bay Hiking Trail - 4 km - through dunes, pebble beaches and bushland
Fitzgerald Bay-Point Lowly Hiking, Cycling and Driving Trail - which is 8 km. It offers panoramic views over the Gulf and Southern Flinders Ranges. There are some steep inclines and cliffs and the vegetation is typical of a semi-desert environment. There is an historic lighthouse at Point Lowly. Interpretative signs along the trail explain the European history, Aboriginal heritage, Marine, Geological, and Fauna and Flora along the route. Check out https://www.mapmywalk.com/au/whyalla-south-australia/freycinet-trail-route-74394652 for a map and additional information.

Point Lowly Lighthouse
Located 36 km east of Whyalla is the Point Lowly Lighthouse which dates from 1883. It was originally 15 metres high and built in masonry. In 1909 it was extended eight metres in concrete. The original lantern is still in place. The lighthouse was manned until 1973 (the two lighthouse keeper's cottages are nearby) but is now fully automatic and the stone cottages are owned by the City of Whyalla and available for holiday rental. For more details check out http://www.whyalla.sa.gov.au/page.aspx?u=1000.

Cuttlefish and Whyalla
Between May and August, the breeding season for the Australian giant cuttlefish, Whyalla is a magnet for these strange creatures. The website http://www.whyallacuttlefish.com explains: "Giant Australian Cuttlefish, also known as sepia apama, collect in shallow waters near Whyalla, South Australia. Each year between May and August thousands of Giant Cuttlefish migrate to the coastline between False Bay and Fitzgerald Bay for spawning. The cuttlefish have unique breeding behaviors, mating styles, migration, swimming abilities, diets and self-defense mechanisms. This breed of cuttlefish is one of the largest species known to man. It can grow up to 60 cm long, and 5 kg in weight. There is such an enormous population of the cuttlefish that their mating behavior can be quite competitive. During the southern winter, it is common to see vast reproduction. Even snorkelers are able to witness the changing colors and patterns of the fish when they are trying to impress their potential mate.
The cuttlefish mate in pairs and the larger the male the more likely they are to gain a female’s attention. The smaller males must make a bigger effort and when trying to mate, will change their appearance; changing their colors and their patterns will make the males look more like females. The larger male becomes distracted when the smaller male cuttlefish moves in on his female mate. As the larger male is distracted, the female gets closer to the smaller male and allows them to mate. Once the female mates with the smaller male cuttlefish, he swims away without a battle. The males are unable to reproduce while the females will not live much longer following their reproduction.
The Giant Australian Cuttlefish are amazing creatures. They can change their colours and patterns and can swim according to the amount of threat they feel. They are able to ripple the fins on their side for different amounts of buoyancy for regular movement. If one of these cuttlefish feels that it is in danger, it will suck water into their own body cavity making them propel their bodies in the opposite direction (like an underwater rocket). In the event of them feeling threatened (along with the swimming), the Giant Australian Cuttlefish is able to emit a nonpoisonous clould of black ink. The ink is a defense mechanism to confuse the predator long enough for them to escape. The ability to change their colours will also camouflage them by taking the appearance of rocks and sand."
The concentration of these unique creatures in the waters around Whyalla is quite remarkable. One scientist, Dr Mark Norman from the University of Melbourne, has described it as "the largest aggregation of Giant Cuttlefish in the world". There are opportunities to dive and be surrounded by hundreds and hundreds of these 'chameleons of the sea'. On every cuttlefish dive visitors are assured of unlimited encounters as these strange creatures hover and perform one of the most colourful and beautiful spawning dances in the marine world. This is a memorable marine gatherings and easy, boat or shore, shallow dive or snorkels - a must for every diver to experience at least once in their life. Check out http://www.whyalla.sa.gov.au/page.aspx?u=906 for more details.

^ TOP

History

* Prior to the arrival of Europeans this desert area was sparsely populated by the Banggarla Aboriginal people.

* The first European to visit the site of modern day Whyalla was Matthew Flinders. On 9 March, 1802 Flinders sailed along the coast and named Hummock Hill.

* In 1840 the explorer Edward John Eyre, on one of his many expeditions to the peninsula, passed near the present site of Whyalla.

* By 1862 the first pastoral lease - appropriately called Mount Hummock - had been taken up.

* In 1880 iron ore leases were taken out at Iron Knob.

* By 1886 BHP had control of the leases with the plan to transport the ore across the Spencer Gulf to be used as a flux at Port Pirie where the silver, lead and zinc from Broken Hill was being smelted.

* In 1901 a tramway was built between Iron Knob and Hummock Hill. It replaced the bullock drays which had been used to bring the iron ore to the coast. The local post office, known as Hummock Hill, opened in this year.

* In 1903 a general store was built at the settlement. This year saw the first iron ore shipment leave the port of Whyalla.

* Slowly a tiny settlement began to grow up around Hummock Hill. It was known until the 1920s as 'Hummocky'.

* Fresh water was shipped across the Gulf from Port Pirie,

* A telephone service was installed (1911) and just a month before the arrival of the first policeman the town officially changed its name to Whyalla.

* On 8 January 1915 ore from Iron Knob was shipped to Newcastle thus ensuring Whyalla's existence as the major port for the Middleback Ranges iron ore deposits. This year saw the installation of the port's first conveyor belt loading system.

* In 1919 the local post office changed its name from Hummock Hill to Whyalla.

* Effectively a company town from 1900-1945 it then became a 'city commission' by a special Act of Parliament.

* Between 1938-40 BHP turned the town from a port to a major production centre. In two years the harbour was dredged, a blast furnace was built and a shipyard was constructed.

* In 1941 the Whyalla shipyard launched its first ship, the HMAS Whyalla.

*  Between 1941-1978 sixty-three ships were built.

* In 1943 the water pipeline from Morgan to Whyalla became operational.

* From 1945-1970 three local members, three BHP representatives and a chairman appointed by the South Australian government, ran the town.

* In 1948 the town accepted its first intake of displaced persons from Europe.

* Whyalla was proclaimed a city in 1961.

* In 1965 the BHP Steelworks officially went into production.

* The city achieved full local government autonomy in 1970.

* The largest ship ever built in Australia, a bulk carrier called the Clutha Capricorn, was launched from the Whyalla shipyards in 1972.

* The shipyard was closed in 1978.

* In 2000 BHP divested itself of Whyalla to a company named OneSteel.

* In 2012 OneSteel changed its name to Arrium.

* In 2015 Arrium loaded a cargo vessel with a record 205,698 wet metric tonnnes of iron ore.

^ TOP

Visitor Information

Whyalla Visitor Centre, Lincoln Highway, tel: (08) 8645 7900 and 1800 088 589, Open weekdays, 9.00 am - 5.00 pm, weekends 10.00 am - 4.00 pm.

^ TOP

Useful Websites

There is an excellent local website. Check out http://www.whyalla.sa.gov.au.

^ TOP
Got something to add?

Have we missed something or got a top tip for this town? Have your say below.